Something Different: Getting Dirty
I grew to hate the flak in a hurry. Do you know how many lubrication points a vehicle that size has? How many potential leaks, cracks, whines, creaks and bumps that you need to check for? After a while I started to wonder how this vehicle had such an awesome reputation. It’s a rare vehicle that looks good when you’ve been staring at it from below for 6 hours trying to figure out where the hydraulic fluid is coming from. That was after only two days.
The ship was leaving the next day. Nearly forty of us going to various companies, even three to the Vedettes. The roughhousing had stopped, between the threats and the humiliation of the first group, and the larger numbers of people the idiots kept their peace. That and being so damn tired all the time. I watched my back but honestly it seemed like a wasted effort. We’d learned how to move in our gear, how to safely carry weapons, not that they gave us weapons, simply heavy rubber mock ups, but if you flashed the muzzle over anyone they made you do push ups until you were too tired to lift the muzzle high enough to “flag” someone anyway. I figured it was a good idea even if it resulted in me spending an hour holding a 6 pound weapon at arms length for an hour for my own mistake. Try it sometime.
We were all in our racks for the grav deck test. Apparently running around if the thing spikes to 4g leaves a bit of a mark. Naturally after a two hour buildup and lying flat on our backs, still as a corpse for another hour, we felt absolutely nothing and went on about our day. The training shifted in those last hours. We spent most of the time in the classroom learning the laws of land warfare. The actual codes were simple. The implications were not. Some things they drilled into us over and over and over and over.
“Do not surrender to yokels. Ever. Always surrender to mercs. Mercs follow the rules. Yokels have their own and they do not like us. Especially the ones that didn’t hire us. Your fellow mercenaries, even the ones on the other side, have a vested interest in making sure the rules are followed. They will ensure that in the event of your situation becoming untenable, that you are repatriated to your comrades based on the conditions of your bond. For most of you that’s return as close to immediately as makes no difference, some of you that means being sent to a neutral world, like New Paris where you can arrange to return to your unit. It never means a bullet in the back of the neck.”
“Never?” One of the skinny kids in the back. A farm kid from a company farm who had heard a lot of lines and farmed a lot of food he’d never get to eat.
“It did happen once. Marko Rubaric’s Retaliators lived up to their name. During a prolonged siege they captured several members of other companies. When they couldn’t lift the siege they executed them. Publicly. The Bonding corporation immediately voided their contract, their bond, and all their escrows, and used most of that money to bring in the big boys. Marko, all of his officers and about 2/3 of his men were killed and the few survivors are still doing hard labor. The only ones that avoided any punishment were off planet support staff, and even they were barred from mercenary employment. Planets that mistreat mercs often run into trouble, and usually their own mercs abandon them, but fire someone up over a flag or a cross or who knows what and they get stupid. Stick to money people, and don’t trust anyone who ain’t another merc.”
We learned the esoterica of laws on some of these planets. On Levant I wouldn’t be able to drive. On Masada the men couldn’t shave unless gas attacks were believed imminent. Many of these laws got ignored as impractical but what it meant was that when we weren’t fighting, we were mostly in our own enclaves, especially on worlds settled by people fleeing what they saw as persecution. We learned how to search and secure detainees. We learned a lot of first aid and survival skills. We learned, we learned, we learned. Somewhere in this mess the ship lifted and headed to New Crimea. We all crowded the tiny observation bubble when it came time to jump. The ship thrust out to the small point in space that let it violate the laws of physics, then the impression of a wave of bluish-violet light swept over the outside of the ship, and we were in the New Crimean system.
New Crimea started as something unusual. A mix of ethnicities, Tartars, Ukranians, Chechens, Belorussians, Armenians, pretty much everyone but the Slavs, who were busy killing the ethnically unpure, had managed to get the UN to ship them out to a world that wasn’t too awful. Over the course of a decade nearly 3 million people were shipped to New Crimea, and they took advantage of their skills with the land to do the one thing New Crimea seemed capable of doing. Growing a shit ton of food. Most planets struggled to be self-sufficient. New Crimea was exporting food before the last of the “original” colonists shuffled off the ship. Of course the biggest buyer of their food was inevitably, Russia. The same slavs who wanted to give them only a swift death now were selling them whatever they wanted, and most of what they wanted was implements of death and destruction themselves, never wanting to be in the boat they were in to give up their homes in the first place.
Now New Crimea has plenty of food and lots of guns, Earth begins its final slide into barbarity as Russia cannot feed its people and the US politicians can no longer lie to enough people to keep order. The outer planets, mostly colonized with the annoying minorities that the great powers couldn’t stand had lost their entire support system. So they all banded together and worked to ensure that everyone had enough to survive, if not thrive.
Alternatively a couple of the fastest thinkers started hiring “Surplus Population” as mercenaries, arming them, and sending them to planets with valuable resources, not so much minerals or farmland, but factories capable of building technology, or even ships. New Crimea was one of these planets. Soon they realized the real money wasn’t in employing mercenaries, but in arming them, supplying them, and providing them with financial services, including escrows to make sure they got paid, and didn’t cheat their employers. Now there was a whole subcontinent more or less set aside for mercenary training, arming, shipping, and all the myriad support services that kept them happily shooting, somewhere else.
We landed and shuffled off, one duffle bag on our back, one on our front and one awkwardly perched on top of the one on our back. We were corralled through a pathway to a gauntlet of NCOs in myriad uniforms. A slightly overweight corporal with a 5 o’clock shadow in the uniform of the Vedettes beckoned me over and helped me toss my bags onto a small 4×4. Grabbing the others from our ship he told the driver of the 4×4 where to take our bags and took us back on the ship to get our trucks.